Yes, it is a Mammoth Cave

Trip Start May 06, 2010
Trip End Oct 14, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Kentucky
Monday, May 31, 2010

I made reservations for four cave tours before I left.  I went to the ticket window to exchange my voucher for tickets and found out that, while I had tried to pick tours that didn't cover the same parts of the cave, one of the tours was a subset of one of the others.  (So much for advance planning.  I looked back at the information online and, while it is clearly stated in the paper brochures available at the cave that one tour is a subset of the other, this fact is NOT mentioned online.)  Since I didn't want to duplicate a tour I returned that ticket and just got tickets for three tours.  Two were today and one is tomorrow.

The first tour I went on was the 4 1/2 hour Grand Avenue Tour.  There are six or so entrances currently used.  The Grand Avenue Tour starts from one of the ones that is some distance from the Visitor Center so we started by taking a bus to the entrance. 

We first went down a long flight of stairs through an artificial passage created to give easier access to the part of the cave we would be touring.  Mammoth Cave is the largest known cave system with almost 400 miles of passageways so getting to the part you're interested in can be difficult.  We emerged from the artificial passageway into a large tunnel with a relatively flat ceiling and floor.  It turns out that most of the cave we would see would look a lot like this tunnel.  Most of Mammoth Cave has none of the decorations such as stalactites and stalagmites that I expected to see although most of it has some gypsum decorations on the walls and ceiling. 

We covered about four miles on our tour.  Most of it was fairly plain.  There were some sections toward the end of the tour that had some decorations but these aren't the norm for Mammoth Cave.

The second tour was the Star Chamber Tour.  This tour is mostly done with lantern light only to re-create the way the early cave visitors experienced the cave.  I found out on the tour that, as I've found to be the case for many of our national parks, Mammoth Cave's early history involved mining, in this case for saltpeter.  It wasn't until after the War of 1812 ended and the need for and price of saltpeter dropped that they started giving tours of Mammoth Cave.  Carlsbad Caverns National Park also started out as a mine, but for bat guano.

While the ranger's stories were interesting the part of the cave covered by this tour was less decorated than the part covered by the earlier tour.  If you want to see a cave with a lot of interesting decorations, Mammoth Cave isn't the one to see.  There are a number of much more decorated caves in our national parks, such as Carlsbad Caverns, Wind Cave or Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park.

Tomorrow I go the Historic Tour, which enters and exits through the original entrance used for tours.  The second tour today entered and exited via the same entrance but this tour will cover some new territory and I'll get to see it all with the lights on.
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